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Volume 21 No. 1
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The view from Day One for new RSNs in L.A., Houston

Cable operators will launch two regional sports networks today, as Comcast takes over the Rockets and Astros rights in Houston and Time Warner Cable takes over Lakers and Galaxy rights in Los Angeles. Staff writer John Ourand talked with the architects of both channels, Time Warner Cable’s Melinda Witmer and NBC Sports Group’s Jon Litner, about what these new networks mean to the business.

What’s unique about your channels?

WITMER: There is a real opportunity to speak much more in depth to the passionate fan. There is a lot that fans of the Lakers want to know about them and about the operation in a much more in-depth way than they’ve generally had access to in the past. I asked Jeanie Buss, “What do your fans want to know?” They want to see [Steve] Nash put on his jersey for the first time. Or they want to see Dwight Howard meeting the management for the first time. They want to see what their lives are like, or how their training works. They want to know what it takes to become a Laker Girl.

In addition to exclusive game coverage with the Rockets and Astros, we will have a dedicated studio in the heart of Houston that will serve as a beacon for greater Houston and southwest region sports fans. It will serve daily news in a talk show format, leading into live news desks. We’re finally giving Houstonians and folks in the southwestern part of Texas what they’ve been craving, which is their own destination sports network. It’s a blueprint that we have used in other parts of the country and had a track record of success.

How are negotiations going with distributors?

WITMER: We’re in discussions actively with everyone. Some are closer than others. Nobody knows how this works better than we do. We know that it sometimes takes time. I have no doubt that we will ultimately get significant distribution.

LITNER: We have a distribution deal with Comcast, which obviously is a significant chunk of the core market. We’re in active discussions with DBS and telco and other cable providers. Those discussions are ongoing.

Why are we seeing so many sports channel launches these days?

WITMER: Most of what’s happening in the RSN business today is not a whole lot different from what has been happening for years. It’s just different markets and different times. There’s been a lot going on, certainly on the college level with conference realignment and a reliance on television revenue to help support universities and their athletic programs. I’m not surprised that there’s been more talk about potential additional product coming to the marketplace.

LITNER: It’s no different than it’s been in the past. There have been some networks that have had stronger value propositions than others. Some will gain distribution quicker than others. Time will tell how much stress is in the market. In a world of fragmented audiences and a world of DVRs and a world of choice, live sports continues to be a driver of audience and technology. Nothing is as strong as live sports, particularly when the teams are winning.